The Daily Cup 65 - Upgrade

Hello, many of you may have noticed that the Daily Cup has been silent for a while. I kept up the movie a day/review a day streak for over two months and wrote over 30,000 words about film. That is something I'm very proud of. However I have some mental health struggles and talking with my therapist we both agreed I was spread too thin. I needed to focus on the things I love the most, and film reviews, while fun, aren't my passion. In short, when a film really strikes me I will write a review on here, but my main energies will be used on the three stage shows I'm currently working on and the films I plan to shoot this fall. Writing about films is cool, but my passion is telling stories, and that's going to be the focus the rest of the year. Thanks for reading, and remember to take care of your selves out there.

Review Time - Upgrade

Tonight I had the pleasure of catching an early preview of Upgrade (2018) from writer/director Leigh Whannell. You can watch the trailer (Upgrade Trailer) and catch the movie when it releases on June 1st, 2018. Also I'm going to try and avoid obvious spoilers, but you may be able to infer some of the twists and turns of the film in the review, you've been warned. Please bookmark this and read it after you;ve seen the film June 1st.

If you watched the trailer I linked above, you would walk into this film thinking it's an over the top action film with a little sci-fi elements. The trailer is decieving, and the actual tone and text of the film is much, much differnt than the trailer would leave you to believe. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but be prepared to have your expectations split in half with a chef's knife. 

The story follow Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) a mild-mannered analog car mechanic in a very digital near future world. he lives in a beautiful futuristic house with his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo). Grey and Asha get into an accident after their automated car malfunctions and group of baddies kill Asha and cripple Grey (all of this is in the trailer). Grey is despondent and a paraplegic, now dependent on the digital automations he resented before to survive. So helpless he can't even kill himself, thanks to these useful machines. Enter tech genius/billionaire Eron (Harrison Gilbertson) who offers a Faustian opportunity to Grey. Insert a miracle microchip into your spine, and be able to walk again. Grey agrees and the chip works, restoring Grey to a full functioning adult, but a secrecy contract with Eron means he can't tell or show anyone. The rest of the film is Grey's use of his new tech to track down those responsible for killing his wife and crippling him. Sounds like a straightforward revenge flick with some sci-fi elements right? Well it's so much more than that, or at least it attempts to be.

Further discussion of the plot would give away too much, but the second and third acts are much more mystery/noir than action. Understandably on the small budget of a Blumhouse film (not a knock, they do more with less than any studio and make awesome films) the action prices aren't frequent, most of them can be found in the trailer. The psychological story Grey travels is the bulk of the film, and for the most part it plays. This is big thanks to the phenomenal performance of Marshall-Green. His physicality in this role is top-notch and impressive, alien, and robotic (in all the right ways). He really embodies what is happening to Grey and we travel in the story with him. The only other actors of real note in the film are Betty Gabriel as Detective Cortez a cop working on Grey's case, and Simon Maiden as the voice of STEM, the chip inside of Grey. Both actors do an extremely great job, and add a ton of humanity ot the film (which is impressive once you know STEM's arc).

The production values of this film are outstanding. The makeup and practical effects department did a fantastic job with the gore and prosthetics. The near futuristic world felt real and lived in, and the cinematography is just plain beautiful. Director of Photography Stefan Duscio did a pehnomenal job using shadows and contrasting candy colors to bring this sci-fi noir to life. The SnorriCam work is very nice, espeically in the very crisp and well executed fight scenes. This is a prodcution and creative team that knows their stuff. 

Only two things didn't work for me in this film. McGuffin bad guy Fisk (Benedict Hardie) kills a man with nanobot sneeze particles. If this was used at all again in the film I would have been ok with this silly scene. But the CGI of the snot-bots was really lacking, and it fails the basic rule of Chekov's Snot. The other thing that didn't work was the dark net hacker scene. While cool looking and a fun bit of world building, it seemed to be a plot needed detour that didn't do much. The hacker seemed to be a cool character, but wasn't utilized well. 

Overall I really liked this film. It was fun, dark, and an interesting essay about a dgitial versus analogue world. I'm not sure what Wannell's lesson on this topic is, but ultimately it doesn't matter. This is a briskly fun 96 sci-fi noir punctuated by some really well done action sequences. I heartily recommend this film to any myster or sci-fi fan.